Clive Peedell is a consultant clinical oncologist, former chair of the NHS Consultant's Association and co-founder and co-leader of the National Health Action Party (NHAP). As a passionate defender of the NHS, he stood against David Cameron in last May's General Election and continues to campaign against the marketisation and privatisation of the NHS alongside his colleagues in the NHAP.
PRN: As a consultant oncologist working in the NHS, what got you to the point where you felt you needed to form the NHAP?
CP: I had been concerned about the direction that the NHS had been heading for a number of years. There has been a clear political agenda to increasingly marketise and privatise large swathes of the NHS since Thatcher's 1991 NHS reforms which introduced the internal market (purchaser-provider split). New Labour under Blair took this approach forward with their own market driven reforms which introduced competition and payment by results. The final straw was Andrew Lansley's Health and Social Care Bill , which became legislation despite massive opposition from the medical profession and other healthcare professionals. It was backed by the Liberal Democrats and feebly opposed by the Labour party. I therefore felt that the NHS needed a voice from grassroots NHS staff to defend it, because none of the main political parties were prepared to keep it as a publicly funded, publicly provided and publicly accountable health system. I strongly felt we needed a new political party to stand up for the NHS and public services in general.
PRN: How do you begin to form a political party? Do you have any background in politics?
CP: I have no particular background in wider politics but have been interested in medical politics for a number of years mainly to defend the NHS against privatisation. I was formerly co-chair of the NHS Consultants' Association and am currently a member of BMA council. I decided to form a political party because I felt this would be the best place to ensure a public debate about what was happening to the NHS. I made contact with many of the medical professionals who had fought against the bill and we agreed that forming a political party would be a good idea to raise public awareness and hold the political class to account for betraying the founding principles of the NHS.
I made contact with Dr Richard Taylor, who had previously won the Wyre Forest constituency as an independent to save Kidderminster Hospital and he agreed to co-found and co-lead the party with me. We set up an Executive committee and used social media to build support and a membership, which now exceeds 5,500 members. The complexity of the NHS has allowed those who want to dismantle it, to confuse and conceal their objectives from the public. There is clear evidence from polling that the public want the NHS to remain a public system, free at the point of use, and that privatisation is unacceptable.
PRN: Where does your passionate defence of the NHS originate from?
CP: I simply believe in a fairer society, where the wealthiest in society realise that their wealth is built on the achievements of wider society throughout the history of humanity. Redistribution of wealth through progressive taxation is the fairest and most productive way to build a successful and healthy economy and society. The formation of the NHS was embedded by these principles, which I passionately believe in. Although the NHS is a socialist system, I am not a socialist - I believe that a socialist system like the NHS can co-exist in a regulated capitalist system. In fact, I believe that a mixed economy where the private sector and public sector work synergistically is the only sensible way forward to ensure a stable economy and fairer society by tackling wealth inequality.
PRN: How do you balance your role as clinician with your role as a politician?
CP: Not very well! I treat my politics seriously, but can only offer limited time. I have a young family too. I take a pragmatic approach by doing what I can, when I can.
PRN: How do you feel about the recent social media campaigns #ImInworkJeremy and #weneedtotalkaboutjeremy - have these brought new supporters to you?
CP: The best thing about the #weneedtotalkaboutjeremy social media campaign is that it has galvanised grassroots support to defend the NHS. It's too early to tell how many NHS staff will be politicised by it, but the Government's £22bn efficiency savings program and cuts to public health and local authority budgets will surely generate a tidal wave of opposition in the next few years.
PRN: You were involved in Peter Bach's documentary SELL OFF: The Abolition of the NHS, which aims to raise awareness about the damaging effects of privatisation. Did this achieve what you hoped it would?
CP: It has not gone on mainstream media channels, so clearly has had minimal impact. Unless it goes viral, it will simply remain a useful film for the already "converted" to use in their own social circles
PRN: Have you come up against any opposition when trying to engage the press about NHS privatisation and issues such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)?
CP: No opposition, just intransigence and disinterest. It's a complex issue that appears too uninteresting & too difficult for the media to cover in any detail
PRN: Can you tell me a little about the experience of running against Cameron in the last general election? – it must have been a very intense period of time.
CP: It was extremely tiring and with little campaign funds, very difficult to engage with the public. The local press were unhelpful to say the least - It took a lot of effort to get a press release in the Oxford Mail! Hustings went really well for me, but I was excluded from the only hustings the Cameron actually attended. In a predicted tight election, he clearly didn't want to be shown up on the NHS, which was the number one issue according to voters.
PRN: What do you envisage the NHS will look like in five years?
CP: The NHS has just endured a £20 billion efficiency savings program over the last five years. This has brought the NHS to it's knees with a crisis in accident emergency departments, General Practice, adult social care and mental health services. It's now about to undergo another £22 billion efficiency savings program by 2020. I predict year on year winter crises, which will turn into all year round crises. The NHS is already chronically underfunded compared to average funding of nations in the EU and OECD. I believe that patient charging, co-payments and increasing privatisation are highly likely to occur in this Parliament. It would also be a difficult time for staff as terms and conditions will be drastically affected in order to make the books balance.
PRN: What is next for the NHAP?
CP: The NHAP will continue in its aim to raise public awareness about what is happening to the NHS. We aim to stand candidates again in the 2020 election. We hope to continue to recruit members from both within the NHS and the general public to help achieve our aims. The NHS is too important an institution and symbol of humanity to give up on. We're in for the long haul.